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Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I have great sympathy with the amendment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and in my brief remarks I shall leave the detailed arguments on Section 28 to others.

Section 28 needs repealing. It is a clumsy piece of legislation; it is not clear and it is not precise. No local authority has ever been charged with being in breach of it and no court has ever defined how it should apply. It is a totally unworkable piece of legislation, but it has been damaging in effect. As the right reverend Prelate said, sometimes symbols have a greater detrimental effect than reality. If Section 28 is retained, it will be in direct conflict with such important measures as citizenship education in schools, the eradication of social exclusion and the implementation of a public health policy, and therefore it needs to be removed.

I turn to the amendment. Like my noble friend the Minister, I believe that the words of the right reverend Prelate reflect many of the issues and concerns that we need to deal with in both guidance and legislation. As my noble friend said, it is crucial that the discussions and the consultations should continue. I am sure that we can then reach common ground, which must ultimately be achieved so that the provision of sexual education is not neglected. That is what most parents want; and that is what most young people want. In a recent Channel 4 poll, conducted on 3rd February, 70 per cent of 15 to 24 year-olds thought that Section 28 should be repealed. It is those young people's lives that we are discussing and it is those young people to whom we should be listening.

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It is unfortunate that what should have been a mature debate about a civilised society, recognising diversity and determining ways of eradicating discrimination, has, in some quarters, been conducted in a tone of hysteria that itself promotes homophobic views and encourages prejudices and harassments. The debate so far has generated more heat than light, at a time when light was what was required. What also appears to be clear from some of the press reports over the weekend is the fact that there are some people who do not want to see that light--who want to keep a restraint on local government, who ignore the need for equality and democracy, who have no desire to achieve equality of treatment for all young people and who do not want clarity for teachers and parents over what can and cannot be discussed. It is that clarity that we must have: the confusion has to be removed. I believe that the amendment brings us nearer to establishing the principles upon which that clarity can be achieved.

It is important for us to have guidance that applies to governors, head teachers, social workers and youth workers. It should not be principally directed at schools. We must have guidance that is understandable and workable and which is detailed and sensitive to the needs of all; guidance which can be built into legislation, not in detail but by placing a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to produce guidance on sex and relationships education in schools and which will assist school governors in the work that they have to do, taking into account local circumstances. I give way to the noble Lord.

4 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am grateful. The noble Baroness talks about guidance. However, call it codes of practice, rules, or what you will, it has absolutely no legal efficacy unless it is triggered by a clause in primary legislation. We have not seen the draft and have not heard about any clause to give it any legal efficacy. Until we know where we are going, I think that we had better go a little quietly on rules or guidance. I wonder whether the noble Baroness agrees.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. It is important for us to have discussion on the principles that we want to see in that guidance. I want to talk about those principles. I also said that, within legislation, there should be a statutory duty placed on the Secretary of State to produce guidance on sex and relationships education. I shall now describe what I believe those principles ought to be. As the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, highlighted, there has to be an understanding in the guidance that indoctrination, whether political, religious or sexual, has no place in maintained state schools.

All young people should be taught from an early age to understand differences and the importance of trust and respect for all, regardless of their sexuality, race, colour or religion. They also need to be taught the importance and the nature of marriage, of parenting and of stable relationships--principles that are already laid down in the new "Healthy Schools" initiative and

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not, as the noble Baroness suggested, never mentioned anywhere. It is equally important that included in the guidance are the values of delaying sexual activity and the dangers inherent in promiscuity and risk-taking behaviour. All young people should be given accurate information on sexual relationships, regardless of their sexuality, if they are to make sensible and informed decisions about their future.

Similarly, young people should be made aware of the teachings of religious faiths on the questions around sexuality. I believe that such a firm ethical framework would be more reassuring for parents, teachers and pupils than four lines in a piece of legislation. It would give teachers and relevant local authority staff the authority to advise and to offer information and support to all young people and so enable them to address specific incidents of homophobic bullying by making it absolutely clear, as the amendment does, that all pupils have the right to develop without being subject to physical or verbal abuse because of their sexual orientation.

In conclusion, Section 28 as it stands legitimises discrimination against one section of society. It asserts that gay men and lesbians are second-class people and that their relationships are pretended. There would, rightly, be outrage if the law were to define any other section of the community in this way. For more than a decade it has been an affront to the basic human rights of a section of the population. That also applies to children, because they have rights as well as adults. To me, and to many others, Section 28 is an iniquitous piece of legislation that needs removing from the statute book. In the 21st century all sections of society are entitled to equal treatment. That can be achieved by well-produced, inclusive guidance and safeguards that can be implemented by being built into legislation. I believe that the principles behind this amendment move us some way towards achieving that aim. I hope that the discussion can continue.

Baroness Hamwee: Like other--

Lord Moran: My Lords--

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): I really do think that this is the opportunity for the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to speak.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the noble and learned Lord. Like other speakers, I should like to pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I shall largely confine my remarks at this stage to supporting the discussions he advocated. However, like other Members of the Committee, I reserve the right to come back as the debate widens.

To put it at its lowest, I regard Section 28 as being unhelpful. It is a symbolic provision, which I find very offensive and one which I believe has done nothing to heal rifts in our society. It is an unhelpful provision, not least because the term "promote" is so difficult to interpret; indeed, "to inform" is not "to promote". I do

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not advocate the promotion of homosexuality; I do not advocate the promotion of sexual experience by young children in any fashion.

As the right reverend Prelate said, we need to explore the place of primary legislation in these issues. For example, what is the responsibility of local education authorities and what is the responsibility of schools? Whatever the outcome of our discussions today, I hope that teachers will feel that they end the day with more support than they currently believe they have.

The relationship with other existing legislation is a matter that needs more consideration than we are able to give it this afternoon. I mention only the section in the 1996 Act which says that where sexual education is given it should be given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and to the value of family life. That says a lot to me, but I am not sure by how much it should be bettered or expanded in primary legislation. Like others, I prefer to see guidelines and guidance--provisions which can acknowledge the sensitivities of the subject. Just to take one aspect of this difficult issue, there are many kinds of family. I do not think that anyone has yet mentioned single-parent families. They constitute a group who find themselves lumped together with others in an unhelpful fashion, as I have said previously.

If we are to rely on guidance, like the right reverend Prelate, I would prefer to see it and not accept it "sight unseen". The suggestion of the right reverend Prelate is a useful, helpful and constructive way forward. I may return to the issue. I know that some of my noble friends have feelings at least as strong as mine. However, I exercise self-discipline in the hope that that of itself will take the discussion forward.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Moran: A number of us have been working for many days to try to devise a reasonable solution to this contentious problem. We have tabled successive amendments in good time so that noble Lords should have a proper opportunity to consider them. We have sought to improve them over time.

It is unfortunate that the right reverend Prelate, without a word to any of us so far as I know, should have introduced a revised amendment at the very last moment. It was printed first thing this morning and none of us has had time to consider it properly. It is ingeniously worded so as to be listed before those already tabled. This has given rise to a suspicion that it is perhaps a ploy to divide and frustrate those who have sought to preserve the prohibition on the promotion of homosexuality and that it is, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, said, a Jesuitical manoeuvre. I hope that suspicion is unfounded.

It is in itself not a bad amendment, although I think it less good than ours. For example, I believe that it covers only schools whereas ours covers all local authority responsibilities. The attitude of the Church of England, reportedly involved in behind-the-scenes

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discussions with Ministers, seems somewhat equivocal on this whole issue. It contrasts sharply with the attitude of the Muslim Council of Britain, which says:

    "Any teaching in schools which presents homosexual practice as equivalent to marriage or in a morally neutral way is deeply offensive to Muslims ... We believe that the repeal of Section 28 profoundly undermines the institution of the family and will damage the fabric of our society".

The marginal note on Clause 68 of the printed Bill describes it as,

    "Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality".

Clearly, if you disagree with the prohibition of such promotion, you consider it allowable and acceptable. Anyone therefore who votes in favour of Clause 68 and leaves it unamended must logically favour the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. There is no getting away from that. Whatever the Government may say or do, their initiative will inevitably be seen by the public as indicating that they favour the promotion of homosexuality.

We now see many concessions to the homosexual lobby: the renewed effort to reduce the age of consent to 16; the failure to ask, like some other European countries, for a derogation from the acceptance of homosexuality in the Armed Forces; and even, next Saturday, a "gay day" at the Dome, which has caused at least one school to cancel its planned visit. I find it hard to believe that most of the Government's supporters, in this House and elsewhere, really want the Government to promote homosexuality.

I am sure that the Government must have been surprised by the strength of public reaction to their proposal, first in Scotland and now in England and Wales, and in the stand taken by so many religious leaders. It must be a powerful cause that persuades the Chief Rabbi and the Muslim Council of Britain to take the same line.

For me, far and away the most important aspect of this question is the need to safeguard children. Protecting the innocent, young and vulnerable is, as I see it, a fundamental duty of our Parliament. We have all been appalled by the numerous cases of abuse of children in care in north Wales and elsewhere. Not all abuse is carried out by homosexuals but a good deal of it is--by paedophiles who target defenceless children. Those who distribute the disgusting publications and videos, some examples of which Peers have been able to see and which are financed by taxpayers and ratepayers, are similarly targeting the young.

How can we put things right? The Government say that they will introduce new guidelines for schools. This is welcome. Mr Blunkett is clearly doing his utmost, for which we should all be grateful. But guidelines do not have the force of law and are no substitute for what is in an Act of Parliament. Stonewall has proposed that there should be statutory guidance for schools. On the face of it that seems reasonable, but I have doubts about whether guidelines produced by the present Government, sympathetic as they are to the homosexual lobby, would be worded in a way that was acceptable to

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most parents, different faiths and the public as a whole. And even statutory guidelines would, I think, be weaker than a section of an Act of Parliament.

Section 28 is far from perfect. It has been argued that it is ineffective because there have been no prosecutions under it. However, I quote just one of the scores of letters I have received. It is from a Liberal Democrat, no less, a former director of education who is now a registered inspector of schools and has long experience of inner-city schools. He states:

    "Section 28 greatly strengthens the hand of officers. If they have a proposal before them from a Council committee which clearly promotes homosexuality then if reason and common sense fail the officer can appeal to Section 28. Councillors know that officers cannot be made to act against the legal advice they have received".

His letter continues:

    "Section 28 puts a very reasonable brake on a situation which, but for the law, could get out of control. Section 28 has in no way inhibited responsible sex education in schools. The argument that Section 28 has been responsible for encouraging bullying in schools is simply ridiculous. Every teacher has a basic professional duty to tackle the problem of bullying however it is caused. In my entire professional career I have never encountered a single case of pupils being bullied because they are homosexual. Sadly I cannot say the same about bullying on other grounds."

The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is simple and has been widely supported. I had the privilege of working with the noble Baroness against the previous government's misconceived move to banish fault from divorce and make it easier under the Family Law Bill, as it then was. Now she is leading the campaign to preserve Section 28. It used to be said of some men that they were good people to go tiger shooting with. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, is a good person to go campaigning with.

The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, to which I have added my name, is an alternative approach, which some may prefer. It has the merits of including a reference to the need to support marriage, which is, I think, most important. It does not specifically mention homosexuality. It would cover all forms of perversion, and not merely homosexuality. It offers an opportunity to put matters right if the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, should fail.

Although most of its substance is acceptable, in the light of what I have said I shall not support the amendment of the right reverend Prelate, not least because for this Chamber to go on record, even by implication, as approving the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities would be deplorable and would damage our standing with the public. We should be failing the parents of children throughout the country. I shall vote for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and if that fails I hope that the Committee will support our amendment.

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